Shore misfires in hunt for business Bags fewer clients for goose season

OUTDOORS

November 08, 1992|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,Staff Writer

A couple of years ago, a major arms and ammunition manufacturer published a map delineating each county in the 48 contiguous United States. The counties were color-coded to show their potential as areas for goose hunting.

In the entire Lower 48, 18 counties were designated as red zones, where the goose hunting potential was as good as it could be.

Five of those counties are in Maryland, but, as hunters and guides have discovered during the past five years, potential alone neither makes a booking worthwhile nor pays the bills.

These days, said one longtime commercial goose hunting guide from Kent County, in the heart of Maryland's red zone for the Greater Canada goose, "You can't give a goose hunt away."

What has become of the goose hunting potential and its associated $40 million industry in Maryland?

Ask several different people and you are likely to hear several different answers. But the bottom line is that the bang is no longer worth the buck.

Billy Myers of Oxford soon will be 80 years old. In the late 1940s, Myers opened a private hunting club on his family's farm. In the years since, Myers has watched Delmarva change -- and seen goose hunting change along with it.

"I was probably one of the first ever to start," Myers said. "But that business venture has gone sort of down the drain because my business was mainly with large companies that would plan from one year to the other.

"I have lost most all of that business because we never know when the season is going to start, and we never know what the bird kill is going to be."

With a split season in Maryland -- one goose for the first 20 days and two geese for the second 40 -- fewer hunters have been willing to pay travel and guide fees, Maryland outfitters say. And without knowing the season splits until late August, they say, it has become increasingly difficult to book parties far enough in advance to justify leasing extensive hunting lands.

They also say that the split season that Maryland has had in place in various forms since the fall of 1988 has virtually eliminated the trickle-down economics that helped the cities, towns and hamlets from Cecil County to Dorchester County.

Jay Tarmon is the president of the Maryland Waterfowl Outfitters Association. He is 63, has been carrying waterfowl parties for 40 years and is a severe critic of Maryland waterfowl management.

"You know, when a man leaves home . . . all along the way they have to stop and spend a little bit of money," Tarmon said last week. "Gasoline stations, roadside restaurants and the like.

"Once they get here they have to spend some money on a motel or hotel. They have to go to a restaurant to eat. They might have to buy shells or have a gun fixed. Or buy a piece of clothing to replace what they left at home."

To support the influx of hunters, of course, more employees are needed at hotels and motels, restaurants, sporting goods shops, picking houses, gas stations and guide services. More hunters mean more landowners collect more rents. And, of course, the state collects more taxes.

"It dwindles all the way down to everything," Tarmon said.

Since 1988, Tarmon said, probably 70 percent of the guides and outfitters have gone out of business in the prime goose hunting areas of Cecil, Queen Anne, Kent, Talbot and upper Dorchester counties.

"I can pull my book out here and tell you when the disaster hit by looking at the bookings for opening day," said Ray Marshall of Newcomb, who has been a commercial guide for 27 years. "I used to be booked for the opening week or 10 days of the season in [the previous] March -- completely, no openings. Roughly 75 parties.

"Now we may have six parties."

For both the one-bird and two-bird seasons, Marshall said, he expects business to be off by at least 66 percent. Four weeks before the Nov. 16 opener this year Marshall said he had two bookings for the first day.

"Back in the old days, we would take maybe 12 parties on opening day," Marshall said, recalling not so long ago when Easton and the shore red zone were considered the goose hunting capital of America.

"On opening day, Easton was a madhouse. I mean they had traffic jams out front of the Tidewater Inn and that place was full. All the motels around were full. We literally had hundreds of hunters in town.

"You go in there now on opening day and it is like tomorrow or any other day."

By and large, outfitters and guides will tell you that Canada geese have been mismanaged by the state's Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other people would say that the hunters have been mismanaged.

"Progress has hurt the Canada goose industry, but the state of Maryland and the biologists have killed it," Tarmon said.

Seasons in Maryland have run from 90 days to as few as the current 60. Daily bag limits have never been higher than three. But for 10 years starting in 1977, hunters could take three birds a day.

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